SUMATRAN ORANG-UTAN Scientific name – Pongo abelii Background The Sumatran orang-utan is the most threatened

of the six great ape species – the least threatened is of course the human. The orang-utan really is ‘King of the Swingers’; it is the world’s largest tree-dwelling animal and is superbly adapted for the high life. Sadly, if the uncontrolled destruction of their forest habitat continues, very soon there will be none of these shy and secretive apes left in the wild. Durrell has been working with Sumatran orang-utans since 1968 and between 1963 to 1990, also bred the Bornean species. Over the years, 7 valuable babies have been born here and some are now at other institutions continuing to make a valuable contribution to the breeding programme for their critically endangered species. Species classification The Great Apes comprise the primate family known as the Hominidae, which includes gorillas, orang-utans, chimps and humans. Of the Great Apes, orang-utans are actually the most distantly related to humans – they share a mere 96.7% of their genes with us, whereas we have an amazing 98.4% in common with our closest ape cousins the 2 species of chimpanzee Pan paniscus and Pan troglodytes. Until recently, all orang-utans were classified as a single species Pongo pygmeaus, which was separated into two sub-species - the Bornean and Sumatran orang-utans, Pongo pymeaus pygmeaus and Pongo pygmeaus abelii. Orangutans from the two islands have now been distinguished as different species because of genetic differences that have resulted from their geographical isolation – Pongo pygmeaus in Borneo and Pongo abelii in Sumatra. Description Orang-utans have long, sparse, coarse ginger hair, which covers most of their body – only the palms of their hand, soles of their feet and part of their face is bare. The colour varies from bright orange in young animals to maroon or dark brown in some adults. Skin colour also varies, from pink in youngsters to almost black in some adults. The extent of hair coverage and its thickness varies between individuals, depending on age and sex. Sumatran orang-utans are generally thinner than Borneans, have a paler red coat, longer hair and a longer face. The Sumatran male’s cheek pads are covered with fine white hair. Contrary to popular belief, the name orang-utan has nothing to do with the colour of their hair, it is a Malaysian term that means ‘forest man’ - according to folklore, these apes are really people who do not speak for fear that they will be put to work! Orang-utan hands and feet are long and dextrous, which effectively gives them two pairs of hands! Their arms are also very long; with a span of some 2m (6½ft). They have brown eyes with white around the iris, which can give the impression of a more ‘human’ face than our other close relatives the gorillas and chimpanzees. However, orang-utans have fewer facial muscles and so lack the range of expressions that we have, which may account for some people mistaking their demeanour for boredom! Adult male orang-utans can reach a height of 1.4m (4ft 8in) and weigh an average of 100kg (220lb). In captivity, their hair grows much longer than that of the females and it hangs in impressive ginger tresses up to a metre long, but in the wild it is constantly trimmed as they travel through the trees. Males also have ‘flanges’ around the face and a large fleshy throat sac (that inflates to amplify their vocalisations) which develop when they reach maturity, and emphasise their size to deter smaller males who may challenge them. Male orang-utans mature at around 15 years in captivity and not until 20-25 years in the wild. This difference is because adult males are usually kept apart in captivity and so do not risk conflict with an early show of strength. Females are usually half the size of males and weigh 3555kg (77-121lb). They also have shorter body hair, less facial hair and lack cheek and throat flaps. In the wild orang-utans usually live from 40-45 years, but in captivity their life expectancy is longer and still increasing – a female has set the record at 58 years. Distribution and habitat As their name implies, Sumatran orang-utans are found only in Sumatra - a large Indonesian island in the eastern Indian Ocean. Their range

Orang-utan species factsheet. © Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, July 2006, photograph credit: James Morgan

but orangutans have an uncanny ability to locate fruiting trees. by folding down branches to make a platform. including fruits (probably 60% of their diet). Single infants are usually born and are dependent on their mother for food. Breeding is not seasonal – it may occur throughout the year. they feed. in Borneo. However. movement at ground level appears cumbersome – their arms are used like crutches with the body swung between them. sub-adult males have an alternative mating strategy of Orang-utan species factsheet. in which he will ward off encroaching males. Adolescent Orang-utans are the most sociable and sometimes come together to play for a few hours Orang-utans become sexually mature at about 8 years old. which makes them good at judging distance. They never jump between branches. Feeding habits In the wild. insects and occasionally raid nests to get eggs. orang-utans spend much of the day searching for food and eating – they may sit in a single tree for a whole day. However. These include ‘kiss-squeaks’. small mammals and birds. Orang-utans are highly intelligent and adept at problem solving. it is just more subtle and less well understood that those of the chimpanzees. for example. leaves. warmth and transportation during the first 3 years. When a large gap between two trees is encountered. July 2006. although few will actually breed before the age of 15. distress calls by infants. buds.even after she has another baby. even though they may congregate in areas where favourite foods are available. crumpled leaves as a sponge to obtain water from tree holes and large leaves as an umbrella during a downpour. submissive noises by subordinates and loud territorial ‘long-calls’ bellowing or grumbling noises made by adult males that can be heard over 1km though the forest. Travel through the forest is slow (maybe just a few hundred metres a day). Their teeth and jaws are large and powerful for tearing open and grinding up coarse foods like spiny fruit casing. orangutans use vocalisations less often than their more social relatives. Nests are also made during the day for a ‘siesta’ before the business of finding food is resumed.a sign of annoyance. stems. They are immensely strong. and have large hands and feet with a powerful grip. Although more energy efficient and often quicker. Breeding Orang-utans are generally thought of as solitary. They are found in lowland and hilly tropical rainforest including peat-swamp forest. as well as eyes that are close together. In Sumatra orang-utans never travel on the ground. They build nests to sleep in. orangutans have no predators on the ground and adult males in particular will occasionally venture down. bark. and males are unlikely to breed until they attain their fully mature appearance. but it may remain with her until 8-10 years old . They have detailed knowledge of the forest and their diet varies according to what’s in season. a new one every night. They make simple tools to help them get things that are otherwise out of reach. on which she will focus most of her attention. probably to warn other males away and attract females for mating. After this time an infant is less dependent on its mother.. but are still capable of a wide range of vocal expressions. However. or held upright for balance as they walk upright. hard nuts and tree bark. especially to move between fruiting trees. play and sleep in the tall trees of the rainforest. gorging themselves on fruit. They are known to eat the parts of over 200 different plant species. Orang-utans have an arboreal lifestyle. In fact orang-utans do have a highly complex social system. but use both their hands and feet to move securely. As less overtly social apes. despite this apparent lack of interest in each other. and pregnancy lasts for 8½ months. In the wild an average female will have 3-4 infants in the 20 or so years of her reproductively active life. sometimes with extra vegetation added to make it more comfortable. The grand total of the different types of food that orang-utans eat is estimated at around 400. An adult male has a ‘home range’ that includes the ranges of as many potential mates as possible. Examples include: sticks to probe ant and termite nests for insects to eat and remove seeds from fruits with stinging hairs.is extremely limited and consists of a small area of fragmented forest in the northern tip of the island. because they face the risk being eaten by tigers. orang-utans whose ranges overlap do recognise each other individually and related females often have neighbouring ranges. orang-utans usually close the gap by swaying on the branches until the next one is in reach. but slim compared to ground-dwelling apes like gorillas. © Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. a dominant male can alter his range to include a fresh supply of females! A male will sometimes remain with a female for a number of days after mating and she may have one or two offspring travelling and sleeping with her. rest. photograph credit: James Morgan . Orang-utans are the largest arboreal animals and are very well adapted for moving through the trees. Once he has mated with all these females at their receptive time and made them pregnant.

He also found that females move through the forest in groups. which was booming from 1900 to the 1960s. and those found in logging areas are transported to these sanctuaries. As with every environmental problem. Their forest home is being felled at an astounding rate. who are powerful education tools for people who may never see them in the wild. For every young orang-utan that ends up in captivity there is a loss of about 50 from the wild population. Depressingly. and it is debatable which one is in a worse situation. This allowed him to establish the total area needed for the apes to live in and the routes they used to travel around it. There are also rehabilitation centres where orphaned youngsters are cared for and taught to fend for themselves before they are returned to the forest.forced copulations (rape). spent 2 years in the swampy forests of Sumatra. The SOCP has put 50 individuals into the park and there have subsequently been two wild births. The Borneans have the largest population – around 15 000. but these regulations are difficult to enforce. with a further surge in the 1980s. isolated reserves are likely to cause problems for the population. habitat loss is now the major contributor to the orangutan’s continued decline. photograph credit: James Morgan . which boosts the economy of this poor region. © Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. In fact illegal logging outstrips legal logging by 4:1 in Sumatra. which affords them the highest degree of protection against international trade. As for just about every threatened species that appears on the dreaded Red Data List. Since 1975 orang-utans have been listed under Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). when previously it had been thought that they were solitary. The species’ respective classifications on the World Conservation Union’s Red Data List (IUCN. Although there is evidence that they were hunted in the past for food. Both species of orang-utan are facing a severe risk of extinction. and devastating forest fires in 1997-8 made a desperate situation even worse. mostly Borneans. 2000) are Endangered and Critically Endangered – they face a very high risk of extinction in the near future. Ian also discovered that illegal logging is rife and extensive. Dr Ian Singleton is the scientific director of this fairly recently formed organisation. However. A 120. a great step forwards! A genetically viable population is thought to be 500. this is no longer a major threat. he was threatened with a chainsaw. but can have an impact on their status. It is clear that further education of the local population is still critically important to ensure the species’ survival. which could account for a considerable percentage of births. July 2006. but they certainly have a chance of turning the tide of extinction. these measures can only save a small number of animals and overcrowding and inbreeding in the relatively small. Conservation status Orang-utans once lived in the tropical rainforests of many Indonesian islands and much of mainland South East Asia up to as far north as China. tracking orang-utans to determine how far they travelled during the year. but there is a glimmer of hope – the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP).000 hectare park in the south of the country is ideal for orang-utans and has historically held them. Durrell is proud to support the SOCP’s work on an annual basis and currently holds 8 captive individuals in Jersey. They are also legally protected from hunting throughout their range. whereas the number of Sumatrans is estimated to be just 6 500 at the most. One important discovery was that they were not using the areas set aside as reserves. which makes the species very vulnerable. to accommodate and feed a growing human population and to provide hardwood to developed nations. so there is a long way to go. and when he confronted some of the culprits. Durrell’s former orang-utan specialist. Ian Singleton. but this is divided in to 8 or 10 isolated sub-populations. In the wild The Indonesian government has begun to establish reserves for orang-utans. The reserves are also not policed effectively and commercial forestry still goes on in these supposedly protected areas. there is no easy answer. resulted in the death of up to 30 000 orang-utans. which repatriates illegally held apes to the forest. due to the number that are killed before just one survives and loss of a potential breeding animal. The future The outlook for Sumatran orang-utans is bleak. with the current rate of decline around 1000 per year. The pet trade. They are also ambassadors for their wild counterparts and many vital captive management and husbandry techniques have been employed conserving them in Sumatra July 2006 Orang-utan species factsheet.

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